Biomechanical Prosthetics [Mechanical engineering]

Biomechanical Prosthetics

Charles Radcliffe, Father of Prosthetic Biomechanics

Professor Charles Radcliffe, MS, ME, is a world-renowned engineer lauded as the father of prosthetic biomechanics. He began his distinguished career in the orthotics and prosthetics field in 1948 while in the US Navy as an engineering officer in World War II. He learned of a research opportunity at the University of California in Berkeley while working on laminated plastic aircraft components.

Radcliffe is largely responsible for such pioneering contributions as the quadrilateral socket, patellar-tendon-bearing (PTB) prosthesis, solid ankle cushion heel (SACH) Foot and the four-bar prosthetic knee. In addition, he is credited with providing the fundamental principles of the biomechanics of prosthetic alignment and socket force transfer throughout the amputee gait cycle. His legendary principles still are taught to prosthetists and therapists to this day.

From 1947 to 1956, Radcliffe earned degrees in mechanical engineering at the University of California in Berkeley. He was a principal investigator in the Prosthetics Research Group of the Biomechanics Laboratory at Berkeley for 35 years, when the study of human locomotion and improved artificial limb designs were the highest-funded projects. During this time he also lectured in the Design Division of the Mechanical Engineering Department and was a professor of mechanical engineering from 1956-1988. Currently serving as professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, Radcliffe is involved in continuing to improve the understanding of the four-bar prosthetic knee design.

Quad Socket Development

His first major project as a graduate student, studying the factors underlying alignment of transfemoral prostheses, led to the development of the AK adjustable leg and the alignment duplication jig. These advancements revealed the limitations of the wooden sockets used at that time, which led to the development of the quadrilateral socket. Introduced in 1954, the quad socket was the primary socket used in transfemoral amputees for 20 years. Though this socket has since been redesigned, the fundamental principles of socket design introduced by Radcliffe still are relevant today.

Clinical Theories

As a Fulbright Scholar in the 60s, Radcliffe studied in the Bioengineering Unit of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, and at the Orthopaedic Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. During that time he lectured in several European countries on the proper fitting of lower-extremity prostheses. As one of the major pioneers who studied in Europe, he returned to the US with a number of ideas on how to enhance American socket design for transfemoral and transtibial prostheses.

His clinical theories, particularly on alignment, still are widely accepted in the field to this day. "Ninety-five percent of the clinical theories followed on a day-to-day basis today can be traced back to Radcliffe's work in the 60s, " commented John Michael, CPO, FAAOP, who began his career in 1976. Michael continued, "Radcliffe made a broad range of contributions to clinical thinking. He changed the face of lower-limb prosthetic practice."

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